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Word of the day: fooi (tip)

Have you read the Dutch bestseller ‘Het diner’ (the dinner) by Herman Koch? Or have you seen the film? I finished the novel last night but have not yet seen the film. Tomorrow night (Thu. April 3 at 19.30 hrs) Direct Dutch starts a new series of book discussions and April’s book is ‘Het diner’.


I really look forward to hearing what the members of our bookclub have to say about this widely acclaimed novel. If you feel like joining the bookclub you can still send a mail to info(at) The sessions are in Dutch and you don’t have to have finished the book for the first session. Sessions are free and tips are forbidden.

So what does the word FOOI (tip) have to do with Koch’s novel? Those who have read it, will know that the storyline is structured like the courses of a dinner. The first part is called ‘Aperitief’ (appetizer) and the last part is entitled ‘FOOI’ (gratuity).

Newcomers in the Netherlands always ask me how much FOOI you should give in a restaurant or a taxi. A general guideline is an amount of five to ten percent of the bill. When I have to pay € 56.20, for instance, I will leave € 60.–. So I’ll usually round off an amount to the nearest five Euro. If the amount is € 59.20, I’ll round it off to €60.—and I’ll leave a few extra Euros. If the service was lousy, however, I will not leave a tip.

I had no idea where the word FOOI came from. French ‘pourboire’ (for drinking) and German ‘Trinkgeld’ (drinking money) are obvious words and Dutch also had a similar word ‘drinkgeld’ (drinking money), but I have not heard or seen this word for decades now. No, it’s FOOI and in ‘koffiehuizen’ you’ll see a FOOIENPOT (bowl for tips) on the counter.

The Middle Dutch word FOOI was derived from French ‘voie’ which means ‘road’. When someone was about to leave and go on the road, he or she’d get a farewell dinner. As time went by the meaning of FOOI evolved into a farewell gift and even later as a gift to say thanks to someone for services rendered.

The English word ‘tip’ was originally a slang word from the seventeenth century and it merely meant ‘to give’. From the early eighteenth century on it also meant ‘to give a gratuity to someone’ (usually an inferior).

So what do you think of novel or film ‘Het diner’? I’ve made up my mind but I’ll keep it it to myself for now and I’ll tell you, after we have had our bookclub discussions. I’ll leave you with a short quote from the novel which is set in an expensive fashionable restaurant.

‘Hoeveel fooi moet je achterlaten in een restaurant waar de rekening je in de lach doet schieten? Ik herinner me dat we daar vaak discussies over hebben gehad… Laten we zeggen dat je na een etentje met vier personen vierhonderd euro moet afrekenen en je gaat uit van een fooi tussen de tien en vijftien procent, dan is de logische consequentie dat je een bedrag van minimal veertig en maximal zestig euro moet achterlaten. Zestig euro fooi – ik kan er niets aan doen maar ik moet daarvan giechelen. En als ik niet oppas barst ik opnieuw in lachen uit. Het is een wat nerveuze lach, een lach als op een begrafenis, of in een kerk waar je stil moet zijn.’
(p.293, Het diner, Herman Koch, Amsterdam, 2009)

(How much is the tip that you leave behind in a restaurant where the bill makes you burst out laughing? I remember that we often had discussions about this… Let’s say that you have to settle up four hundred euros after a dinner with four people and you assume a tip of between ten and fifteen percent, then it is a logical consequence that you leave an amount of at least forty and at most sixty euros. Sixty euros tip – I cannot help giggling. And if I don’t watch it, I’ll burst out laughing again. It is quite a nervous laugh, a laugh like the one you have at a funeral, or in a church where you have to be silent.)

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